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O’Neil: Seahawks are better off for not overpaying T.J. Lang

After visiting the Seahawks over the weekend, former Packers guard T.J. Lang, 29, signed a three-year deal with Detroit. According to the NFL Network, the deal is worth $28.5 million with $19 million guaranteed. (AP)

The Seahawks will be better off without T.J. Lang.


That didn’t come out right, because they certainly didn’t improve by failing to add a guard who made the Pro Bowl last season.

They’re better off not paying the $19 million – at least – that Detroit is now obligated to give Lang over the next three years. And while that’s not going to sit well with the chunk of Seattle fans who are stomping their feet and threatening to hold their breath until they pass out, it’s the truth.

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No, the Seahawks’ offensive line wasn’t good in 2016. Yes, Lang would have made it better. But the quickest way to drive a playoff contender off the cliff of NFL relevancy is to spend into the teeth of free agency to fix problems, and that’s exactly what the Seahawks would have been doing with Lang.

Or did you miss what happened to the price of offensive linemen over the past week? Because it went through the roof. A guy that never made the Pro Bowl got $9.5 million per year (Ricky Wagner in Detroit). The most anonymous member of the Cowboys’ league-best offensive line – a guard, no less – got $9 million per year from the Broncos (Ronald Leary). Speaking of Denver, it decided former Seahawk Russell Okung wasn’t worth $12 million a year, and then watched as he landed on his feet in San Diego, getting more than $11 million annually.

The Seahawks are at a point where they have to spend better than other teams, not spend bigger. They have too many stars with too many big contracts to pay the premium it takes to land even a solid veteran in free agency.

That’s not to say Seattle’s offensive line was acceptable last season. It was not. The Seahawks were too young, but that’s not the worst thing in the world. At least not in the NFL. At least the Seahawks were cheap. The worst thing in the NFL is to be bad and old, because bad and old also equates to being expensive.

Seattle has seen that show before. Just about 10 years ago, in fact. That’s when the Seahawks spent big money to upgrade a defense they hoped would take the baton as the league’s best offense started to decline in the years after the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance.

The Seahawks signed linebacker Julian Peterson in 2006. They added defensive end Patrick Kerney in 2007 and followed that by paying for what turned out to be the league’s most expensive safety tandem in Deon Grant and Brian Russell.

In 2008, the Seahawks finished 4-12, marking the first of four successive regular seasons in which the team failed to have a winning record.

It wasn’t that the Seahawks bought bad players. Peterson was a Pro Bowler here in Seattle. Kerney was runner-up for the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2007, but he suffered a shoulder injury at the end of that season and was never really the same the following two years.

That’s the problem with paying free agents like they are cornerstones. They’re older and by definition that makes them more fragile. It’s also back-breakingly expensive, and in a league that’s salary-capped, you quickly run out of money by bringing in reinforcements. And sooner rather than later the whole thing comes crashing down.

Spending in free agency is like betting big before the flop in poker. You commit huge money without knowing more than the two cards you’re holding. It reduces the number of bets you can make to put pressure on opponents later in the hand and makes you more vulnerable to whatever fate throws your way.

If the Seahawks had outbid the Lions for Lang, it would have been a sign of desperation as opposed to a show of strength. It would have said the Seahawks needed this veteran offensive lineman so badly that they were willing to pay through the nose for a guy whose own team, Green Bay, didn’t pony up for even though the Packers are known for paying their own players above all else.

Sorry, I don’t think the Seahawks are in that desperate of a situation, even though they failed to land Lang.